• Campaign goal is to build sustainable, continuing support program
BROOKINGS – When Barb Anderson took the reins in May as development officer for the Brookings Health System Foundation, her first task for herself was to “boil things down to the basics.”
She wanted to know, and she wanted the foundation team whose work she supports to know:
• Who’s our audience – who cares about us?
• What’s the message we want to deliver?
• What’s the best way to deliver that message?
“I wanted to make sure we all understood who our audience is, and then we could work on our story, our message,” says the former communications executive.
As soon as she’d crystallized the mission with the foundation’s board of trustees and with the health system’s executive leadership, she began carrying that story to the people of Brookings.
“Once we had that – when we were clear, solid and confident – we could effectively deliver that message to others.”
And almost from the day she slid into her chair at foundation headquarters, she’s been talking to the people of Brookings: to potential donors, to community service groups, to health system staff, to the media, to the guy on the street.
She was charged by the foundation’s board of trustees to bring a new focus to the basics, and in doing so, to win the community’s support for the health system’s continuing efforts to improve its service.
“We wanted to make sure everyone understood the benefits of having an excellent health system here in Brookings,” Anderson explained, and we wanted them to know the challenges we’re facing.”
Anderson is a 35-year resident of Brookings, and over that time she’s personally watched the growth as “the Brookings hospital” morphed into the full-service Brookings Health System (BHS) that includes a 49-bed hospital with three operating rooms and a state-of-the-art emergency and lab wing, a nursing home, a hospice, senior living apartments, on-staff physicians, an independent ophthalmology practice, a new home health care business and satellite clinics in two area towns.
“We’ve opened a few eyes,” she says with a smile. “We’re not just a hospital anymore.”
Raising lots of money
Anderson, who most recently directed public relations and community events as outreach coordinator for the National Children’s Study at SDSU, has another task ahead of her, too: she’s got to raise money, and lots of it.
Probably the most critical aspect of her new role is encouraging community residents to consider the health system in their charitable giving.
Fortunately, she’ll have a lot of help doing that.
Long before Anderson ever signed on, BHS Foundation board members, led by SDSU nursing college dean Roberta Olson, had laid the groundwork for a major fundraising campaign, setting up volunteer groups and identifying potential donors. Their goal then – as it is now – was to raise enough capital to make a substantial contribution to the $15 million skilled nursing facility that will replace Brookview Manor.
Campaign leaders chose not to put a dollar figure on their current fundraising, because they want their work to be a continuing effort, building and gaining momentum over time.
The nonprofit Brookings Health System Foundation is a relative babe-in-the-woods in fundraising. It came into existence in December 2009, and to date has assets – from various private gifts over the years – of about $140,000. Anderson and the trustees would like to see that number in the millions, replenished annually with planned giving programs in the community.
“It’s certainly achievable,” Anderson notes. “We’ve seen it in surrounding towns. Watertown, Pierre and Huron all have independent hospitals, and they’re all supported by foundations. They have reached $2 million and $3 million in assets.”
The difference between those foundations and Brookings’ is that they’ve been in existence for 30 years or more.
Filling in the gaps
A health care foundation can do things the health system cannot, Anderson explains.
“For example, the health system’s annual capital equipment budget is about $3 million a year, but to stay competitive – if all the items on the professional staff’s ‘wish list’ were purchased – it really needs about $6 million a year. We need to do a little extra, more than we’re doing now.”
Anderson points out that the hospital can’t raise its rates – they’re heavily regulated. Because of bonding limits, the trustees can’t finance all of their capital improvement needs. And unlike utilities, there’s no steady income stream – such as monthly bills – the health system can rely on.
The “little extra” is where the foundation comes in, supporting the system professionals with the latest in technology and with facilities upgrades.
And the foundation will step in to fund special capital needs projects, too. With the new skilled nursing facility, Brookings Health will finance about $10 million, leaving a balance of $5 million. Anderson acknowledges “it would be nice” if the foundation’s campaign could make up that entire amount.
“Health care is so important to the region, and it is a major factor in economic development,” Anderson says. “People who know how important it is to Brookings’ continued growth will include it in their giving. Most donors understand that health care is a critical part of the picture, a part of the ‘philanthropy pie.’”
Need is there
Some Brookings residents, hearing that the health system is raising funds, have wondered why they should contribute to an organization that’s already funded by the taxpayers of Brookings.
That’s a non-issue, says Anderson, because whether it’s publicly or privately owned, the need for community support is still there: for Brookings to continue to grow, it must have an excellent health care operation, and it must have eldercare facilities that can accommodate the people who come here.
And, in fairness, while the citizens of Brookings own the hospital and its various operations, they really aren’t supporting it with their tax dollars – it’s self-sustaining.
Brookings Health is a not-for-profit enterprise, Anderson explains, and 100 percent of any profit is plowed back into the operation to improve service for residents.
Anderson pointed to the local ambulance service, fully owned by the health system. “Other communities have to pay for that service, and neither our city nor county governments have to budget for that – it’s a service to the people of the area.”
Rather than something “citizens have to pay for,” Brookings Health is one of the community’s important economic engines: it employs about 430 and pumps $15 million in gross payroll back into the community each year.
While the health system will benefit from a sustainable giving program, the organization itself is a major “giver” in Brookings. Brookings Health typically donates nearly $80,000 to local organizations like the Brookings Economic Development Corporation and BATA, and it annually writes off more than $300,000 in medical billings for community residents who apply for assistance.
Staff giving, too
The staff understand the importance of Brookings Health to the community – 60 percent of them have already signed up for payroll deductions to contribute to the foundation’s fundraising campaign. All of the health system trustees have likewise pledged.
“The future will demand more, not less, from our fundraising efforts,” says Anderson. “The health system in the future will need to be more things to more people. Because we’re a community-owned system, we can’t cherry-pick what services we will and won’t offer, like some specialty hospitals.”
She added, “We have to do it all, at a time when Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements are shrinking.”
The foundation’s volunteers have begun contacting individual donors to explain their philanthropic opportunities – from major gifts to multi-year planned giving programs.
“If you want to support a particular aspect of the health system’s operation, we’ll make sure that’s where your gift will be used, Anderson promises.
“The goal for Brookings Health System Foundation is to increase awareness of the foundation as a viable, relevant organization. We want to build a sustainable base of supporters so we can raise the dollars to help fill the gaps, reduce the need to borrow money and reduce the need to reach into reserves.
“The ultimate goal,” she says, “is for Brookings Health System to reach even higher with its service to the community.”
Contact Ken Curley at email@example.com.